Stefan 2016, pp. 8-9). Home, School, and Community



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Family Engagement: Family Systems Theory
vs. Ecological Systems Theory


Education has shifted from the perception
of learning and development of the student merely occurs between the teacher
and the student in the classroom. Research has shown that educators that utilize
family engagement have higher success with school attendance, socialization,
graduation rates, test scores and positive behavior (Grant & Ray, 2016, pp. 8-9). Home, School, and Community Collaboration defines culturally responsive family engagement as “practices that respect and acknowledge the cultural uniqueness, life
experiences and viewpoints of classroom families and draw on those experiences
to enrich and energize the classroom, leading to respectful partnership with
students’ families” (Grant & Ray, 2016, p. 5). Family engagement
is a complex, multifaceted approach that is studied in various models and methods.

The Family Systems Theory and Ecological Systems Theory though different in
nature, show similarities in their analysis of the family, community, and
student learning and development.


Family Systems Theory stems from the idea that properly functioning families work
as a “social system” in
which all parts or members interconnect and each member effects all others (Grant
& Ray, 2016, p. 34). The family system is broken down into
interdependent characteristics such as rules, roles and boundaries similar to
other systems of study. Educators may apply the FST to understand the student not
as an individual, but a collection of one’s
family and community. By doing so, teachers can acquire a deeper understanding of
children’s actions and behaviors in their household,
which translates to behaviors in the classroom. The Ecological Systems Theory
by Urie Bronfenbrenner is a model in which the child is the center point who is
influenced by different frameworks from increasing settings: microsystem,
mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem and chronosystem (Grant &
Ray, 2016, p. 44).


Family Systems Theory and Ecological Systems Theory both show the impact of
proximal and distal settings on the functioning and behaviors of the family and
student. In the Ecological system, the mesosystem shows the various influences
of a child’s nearest and direct
relationships. These influences can come from family, friends/peers, and the
school environment. The size of the mesosystem is dependent on the amount of strong,
positive relationships with peers, family and teachers (Grant & Ray, 2016, pp. 44-45). The mesosystem in
the EST is linked to the bonding/buffering and boundary subsystem of the Family
Systems Theory. In order for a student to work in a functioning family unit,
he/she must reach a level of homeostasis in their bonding and buffering. Students
are influenced by their macrosystem which includes perceptions of race,
culture, religion, geographic location and socioeconomic status. These
influences are not within the students control but can affect their outlook and
attitude toward education (Grant & Ray, 2016, p. 46) The macrosystem of
the Ecological Systems Theory is similar to the family worldview and rituals
and traditions. The family worldview is explained as “the lens through which the family sees the world” (Grant & Ray, 2016, p. 36) The worldview can deemed
as positive or negative depending on geographic location and be affected by social
issues such as racism and gender roles.  


idea that the family is dynamic and changes over time is supported by both
theories. Student’s learning and development
in school can be positively or negatively influenced by family events. Negative
events such as a divorce and a death in the family can require a student to
adapt to the change while continuing to perform in school. The Family Systems
Theory states that when families go through a change whether positive or
negative they enter a state of morphogenesis (Grant & Ray, 2016, p. 41) A family cannot
remain in this state and still be deemed as fully functioning. All families would
like to reach a state of equilibrium in which there is a balance between the
adaptation and the stability there once was before the life changing event. The
Ecological Systems Theory describes a student’s lifetime changes as the chronosystem.

The EST goes a bit farther than just family events to include historical world
events, the economic status and influences of the media (Grant & Ray, 2016, p. 44) We are now in
technological age in which student have access to cellphones, computers and
virtual learning that students in prior decades did not.


A major
difference between the Ecological Systems Theory and Family Systems theory is the
observance of interdependence and isolation. The Family Systems theory can be
broken down into its characteristics of a system but cannot be studied
independent of the whole system. This can be seen in the first characteristic
of the FST in which “the whole is greater than
the sum of its parts” (Grant & Ray, 2016, p. 35). In this model, it
is difficult to study one aspect of a student’s
family influence without looking at another. Contrary, the Ecological system give
educators a wider context of how and why students are impacted by various
settings. Each setting impacts one another and can be applied in various ways
but also can be studied on it lonesome. For example, if a student’s parent changed jobs that would be examined in the exosystem of the
EST. The exosystem can be applied in its influence of the mesosystem and
microsystem. In the FST, a parental change in occupation would be studied in various
characteristics such as family roles, dynamic change and self-regulation. The
Ecological Systems Theory gives educators the ability take information of a
child’s family and apply that information to a wider
context (Grant & Ray, 2016, p. 46).


current research and literature show that children’s learning, development and behavior cannot be solely attributed to
the child. A child is a reflection of their family, community and environment.

With the Family Systems Theory and Ecological Systems Theory educators can dig
deeper to understand a child’s
motivations, resources and influences in the classroom rather than simply
his/her face value. Family engagement is critical to ensuring that children
excel and families a connected and aid in their children’s education.



























Works Cited
Grant, K. B., & Ray, J. A. (2016). Home,
School, and Community Collaboration: Culturally Responsive Family Engagement (3rd
Edition ed.). Thousand Oaks, California, US: SAGE Publications, Inc.



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